Well butter my buns, and call me a biscuit! It’s time for another Dantastic recipe with Dan’s southern collard greens. Southern collard greens are well a staple of Southern cooking, and for good reason. Well done collard greens are the stuff of legends, slightly bitter with a mellow and slight earthiness. This is often the dish that separates “real” Southerners from “wannabe”. If you cook a lot of fried chicken, corn pudding, fried green tomatoes and cheese grits but never touch the greens then you’d be doing a disservice to yourself. Dan’s Southern collard greens is one of the best versions, and you’ll be a bonfided Southern after just one bite.
The history of collard greens dates back to prehistoric times, they’re actually one of the oldest members of the cabbage family. Flashing forward in time to ancient Greece, they grew both kale and collard greens but made no distinction between them. The Romans all the way back in the before Christian era grew several kinds of collard greens including those with large leaves and stalks and a mild flavor. The Romans are thought to be responsible for taking collard greens to Britain, and France but it also may have been the Celts. Regardless, they reached the shores in the 4th century B.C.
While collard greens had been cooked and used for centuries, the Southern style of cooking of greens came with the arrival of African slaves to the southern colonies and the need to satisfy their hunger and provide food for their families. As we discussed, collard greens didn’t originate in Africa but the style of cooking collard greens down in a low gravy, and drinking the juices is of African origin. That style of cooking is known as “pot likker”. The Southern Style of Collard greens would evolve as slaves were given the leftover food from the plantation kitchen which was often the tops of turnips, miscellaneous greens, ham hocks, and pig’s feet.
With little options, the slaves were forced to create meals from these, and that’s how they created the famous southern collard greens. The slave diet began to evolve, and spread when the slaves were brought to work in plantation homes as cooks. Their African dishes combined with using foods in the region they lived in began to evolve into present-day Southern cooking.
When we make food, Southern collard greens or otherwise, it’s important to consider and reflect upon the history of the dish to give us an appreciation, and understanding of how it came to be. Southern cooking has deep roots in slavery, and we can’t erase that part of history but we can respect and appreciate that this style of cooking was an expression of hope, and perseverance in the face of oppression.